Tagged: acoustic

Saturn Swings


We last noted the Swiss trio Plaistow in October 2012 with their fine and sturdy album of instrumentals called Lacrimosa; and their drummer Cyril Bondi is a regular name in these pages, quite often adding his percussive twigs and mallets to the radically experimental work of Diatribes. The new collection Titan (DYFL / PLAISTOW MUSIC DYCL04CD) once again showcases the superb and inventive piano work of Johann Bourquenez, while for this session the bass guitarist Raphaël Ortis has been replaced by an acoustic double-bass player, Vincent Ruiz. Perhaps because of the mostly acoustic piano-bass-drums configuration, I mistook this music for some form of “jazz” last time, but the press notes for Titan are clear on this point: “It’s not jazz,” they state, adding as a further caveat “It’s not conceptual”.

What remains is a shared musical interest in economy and minimalism (even in some places achieving a very close resemblance to Philip Glass), stating and restating very simple patterns, and also flirting with noise – as much abstract noise as it’s possible to generate from this acoustic set-up. There’s also groove – the bass player and drummer given license on some tracks to deliver a stripped-down form of acoustic Techno or dub, which is a strong indicator of these musicians’ Catholic tastes and their modernity. While no-one will be spinning Titan on the dancefloor any time soon, the precision and tension of the playing here is exemplary, notes hammered home as if fired from a rivet gun (an exceptionally clean and well-oiled rivet gun). The trio’s muse for Titan is an outer-space theme, and all the titles are “freely inspired by the moons of Saturn”, and not just their names but some understanding of their orbit patterns and geophysical characteristics has likewise fed into the work. “One day here lasts ten hours”, state Plaistow blithely, as if they were fully acclimatised to living on or nearby this gigantic planet.

While a connection is not explicitly stated in the music, I need hardly remind the reader of the original Saturn-dwelling jazz pioneer Sun Ra. I was going to write that he would have given his full blessing to this project, but now I doubt if he would have been inclined to do that, since Plaistow are indifferent to metaphor. Titan’s insistence on factual detail doesn’t leave a great deal of room for imagination, either that of the player or the listener – a strategy reflected in the cool and restrained cover graphics. Instead, they succeed in offering a “bone-chilling experience”, with music that is both dynamic and crisp, backed by solid water-tight performances. From 21 September 2015.

Black (Coffee) Celebration


Sylvain Chauveau & Ensemble Nocturne
Down To The Bone

Well, this is a rum one, and no mistake.

One of my comic-reading highlights of 2015 was James Robinson and Greg Hinkle’s “Airboy”, a tour-de-force of self-loathing that actually made me laugh out loud in a coffee shop. This was in response to a panel where Robinson’s character rages against slowed down acoustic versions of 80s new wave songs. High street coffee shops tend to have such things on permanent loop, of course. So, imagine my surprise, and my trepidation, when my review pile yielded up this little item, subtitled “An Acoustic Tribute To Depeche Mode”.

I genuinely do not know what to make of this. I guess it succeeds on its own terms, because these are indeed acoustic versions of Depeche Mode songs, tastefully arranged for piano and strings. The musicians play well, the singer is fine, so these are not bad versions as such, even if it’s very hard to distinguish one track from the next. Apart from Track 6, “(Enjoy) The Silence”, which is 47 seconds of, yes, near silence.

I should point out that I have no strong feelings about Depeche Mode one way or the other, so I have no emotional attachment to the songs. But really, who is this aimed at? If you were a Depeche Mode fan, would you want to listen an entire album of inoffensive chamber jazz/easy listening cover versions? If you’re not a Depeche Mode fan, would you want to listen to an entire album of inoffensive chamber jazz/easy listening cover versions of songs by a band you weren’t really interested in?

Chauveau is described as an “experimental crooner”, although it’s hard to see what’s experimental about any of this. The arrangements don’t seem to reveal any hidden depths or surprising aspects of the originals, apart from the surprise at how similar it all sounds. Maybe there’s a high concept that I’m not picking up or a joke that I’m not getting, but in the end, this doesn’t appear to be anything more than a collection of slowed down acoustic versions of new wave songs.

If that’s your cup of macchiato, or if you’re a café owner putting together a playlist, dive on in.

Editor’s note: this is a reissue of an album originally released in 2005 on Les Disques Du Soleil Et De L’Acier.


SYNEUMA img012

Fairly compelling improvised music that’s alternately busy and droney from the ad-hoc trio Thanos Chrysakis, James O’Sullivan and Jerry Wigens on their Syneuma (AURAL TERRAINS TRRN0621) CD…O’Sullivan has been noted here before for his solo electric guitar work and as part of the London combo Found Drowned, while clarinettist Wigens is a new name to me. However, it’s the Athens-born player Chrysakis whose presence hangs over the group sound here, his “inside piano” resonating like a dreamy music box from Looking-Glass World and suspending the other musical contributions in a foggy soup. I’m keener on this echoey mode of his than when he attempts his sub-Cecil Taylor jazz runs, which appear to me hesitant and poorly-formed. However, he does form a simpatico bond with Wigens, and the two blend well together on their wooden platform, which may reflect the other numerous times they’ve recorded together for this label. Given the relationship of this pair, O’Sullivan sometimes doesn’t know where to put himself, and tries out any number of devices and idioms from his guitar repertoire, none of which are quite right for the occasion. Nondescript and blurry cover art, which is just about saved from disaster by a brave experiment in bold typography.

Dadamah Covered


The latest instalment in the Alone Together Series of singles from Emerald Cocoon is by Pete Swanson, who’s been steadily establishing a name for himself as purveyor of extremely melancholic and harrowing music since the demise of Yellow Swans. His High Time / Trees (EC007) may have started life as simple acoustic guitar ballads, a sort of mirror-image underground version of Terry Jacks or Tim Buckley, but what’s ended up on the grooves is a thick, clotted sound arising from distortion, overdubbing, and other studio distancing strategies. Even so, the label assures us, there is still an audible “room sound” that shows the simple, natural origins of these recordings. Both songs are Swanson’s tribute to New Zealand underground rock, of which he’s a devotee. ‘High Time’ was originally recorded by Dadamah in 1991 and released by Majora as the B-side of the Nicotine single; Peter Stapleton and Roy Montgomery both featured in this important NZ band. ‘Trees’ is a more recent offering by Gate, plucked from their 2010 album of techno-ambient gloomery. In both instances, Pete Swanson transforms the songs into introverted hymns of loneliness, building a claustrophobic sound through entirely acoustic means, and delivering a pained scenario where the protagonist is so alienated and numb that they’re no longer aware of anything but a distressing, emotional confusion. The bewildering cover images (especially the back cover) merely add to the general sense of disconnect. From 30th January 2012.

The Unexpected Answer


Paco Rossique is a Spanish sound artist from the Canary Islands. I warmed instantly to his Collages & Dispersions (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDINGS LOR063), a visionary and dream-like mixture of field-recordings and live sounds, blended with occasional stabs at detuned and denatured musical instruments, moving beyond the obvious with prepared piano, stringed instruments and percussion, to create his own unique moments of Harry Partch-like ruggedness. His is a very personal and private universe, which we can glimpse occasionally through is subtle and under-stated works, which are haunted with memories, passing thoughts, ghosts, nostalgic longings, and unfamiliar emotions. It helps tremendously if you peruse the booklet (downloadable as a PDF) while listening; each track has its own accompanying watercolour/collage image and a text of prose/poetry, giving further clues to help unlock the hermetically sealed information. In this he strongly resembles two other introverted daydreaming visionaries who we very much like at TSP, namely Joe Frawley and Edward Ruchalski. With these spacey acousmatic interludes and trance-state fugues, the beautiful amorphous music sometimes interspersed with fragments of speaking voices and murmuring phantoms from the ethereal zones, I’ve no hesitation in greeting Paco Rossique as a Surrealist-manque, the aural equivalent of a Paul Delvaux or Leonora Carrington. An unusually rich album for this label, I might add, which I have often associated with dry and spare recordings of minimal acoustic improvisation. From 28 May 2015.


Path Through The Forest


Freaky Polish neo-folk from 23 Threads on their Conspicuous Unobstructed Path (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 093-2) album…this marginal Polish combo first surfaced in 2001 with a record called Magija, which had been recorded in 1995. At that time, the band were effectively the duo of Marek Marchoff and Dorho Marchoff, with guest players appearing under mysterious aliases such as Animal’94 and Industry AW. The resulting CDR appeared on the obscure Furia Musica label in Poland, home to other intriguing avant-rock acts such as One Million Bulgarians, Mannequin and Serpent Beat.

Some 20 years later, they managed to get this new album recorded in New York. Core member Marek remains, and appears to play most of the instrumentation himself, joined by Rafal Janus with his upright bass and djembe, and the band’s new secret weapon – the chanteuse Ingrid Dawn Swen. I’m assuming, just by looking at her photos on the cover and hearing her voice, that she has quite a strong personality. She doesn’t exactly dominate the album, but when her creepy breathy whispers and implacable utterances arrive on the tape as if by stealth, all cats in the neighbourhood arch their backs and their fur stands up on end. She isn’t really singing, either – it’s more in the nature of a poetry recit, half-sung half-spoken pronouncements, with every turn filled with hidden significance. The lyrics are derived from the writings of MJ Caroline Rider, and Swen’s contribution to the project has involved a certain amount of editing to deliver only the choicest nuggets of mysterious fate.


At this point, it may not surprise you to learn that 23 Threads have an interest in the esoteric – Marek Marchoff is photographed wearing an Egyptian medallion across his bare chest, holds a rooster (a symbol persisting from their first album) in an ominous way, there’s the mystical number 23 in the band name, and the album apparently abounds in “references to esoteric tradition” as it endeavours to tell the story of “a woman moving through mysterious forests”. The genres of pagan, neo-folk and dark folk are a closed shop to me, and my interest in the works of Current 93 or Tony Wakeford is virtually nil, but 23 Threads still holds a good deal of interest even to the non-initiate. Marchoff is very skilled at creating, and sustaining, a genuinely unsettling mood with his very subtle musical arrangements, eschewing cheap drama and theatrics, and does it mainly through acoustic means – his mesmerising acoustic guitar becomes an instrument of dark magick, and each track ripples with understated atmospheres.

Further esoteric thrills to be found with the inside photos of the band posing with various symbolic devices (and hats); Ingrid certainly looks very pleased with her ceremonial dagger. For those of you intending to delve further, you may be pleased to learn the label has also reissued their debut album this year. From 5th May 2015.

Rivers of the World


Highly unusual performance record of drones, hums and growly toots by Sainct Laurens, a duo of players, in the form of their album Volume 2 (ETRC019) on the Canadian label E-Tron Rec. Montreal players Pierre-Yves Martel and Philippe Lauzier thrive in a marginal sidebar of free improvisation, clearly wanting nothing to do with those energetic sort of players who sweat it up, blart it out, and skitter about with their free-form blurts in manic passion-fuelled bouts. Instead, these two introverts exude a form of rigid control; every note they make seems to be surrendered reluctantly, and at some cost to their own physical comfort. They’ll only make an utterance if the occasion demands it, like two abstemious Quakers at a prayer meeting. They almost seem to be exploring each musical encounter anew, rather than setting out in advance knowing what they will discover.

Second noteworthy element is the unusual choice of instrumentation, which includes a viole de gambe, a bass clarinet, found objects, and amplifier feedback. Only the woodwind half of the act (Lauzier, who also blows an alto and soprano sax) allows this release to be at all recognisable as free improv, and hence gathered in the “jazz” racks at the local record store. There also seems to be something going on with prepared strings, so that one of them (Martel most likely) comes across as a low-key avant-garde miniature Gamelan ensemble, with muffled percussive blows. Their slightly stilted method, combined with their unusual sound, makes the album a winner for me; when they reach the sweet spot of unearthly tone blends, it’s near-delirious. The pair have come our way before on the album La Formule XYZ in 2012, where they did it with Martin Tétreault to great effect. From 9th February 2015.

Oscar Contemplates


Last heard the talented multi-instrumentalist and singer Nick Pynn in 2011, with his six-track EP talktapes, a delightful showcase for his highly companionable style and admirable performative skills. His 2015 album Waterproof (OSCAR RECORDS OSC002) is not only quite a step forward in terms of production values, but the performances are more assured than ever before. Effortlessly playing everything in sight (multiple stringed instruments and percussion), Pynn’s a one-man band whose escapades could, in the wrong pair of mitts, come off as something of a novelty gimmick, and indeed he seems to have won over the crowds of culture-consumers who flock to the Edinburgh Festival, and celeb comedian Stewart Lee has playfully dubbed him “the octopus of sound”. But I am persuaded that Pynn’s all about the craft – a genuine musician, with something personal of his own to say, and so much nervous energy spilling out of him that the only way he can express it sufficiently is through picking 18 mandolins, banjos, guitars, ukuleles, and violas (not forgetting the bass pedals and foot-operated loops he plays on stage).

Aided here by side-players John Sawicki, Kate Daisy Grant and Paul Guinter, Pynn delivers himself of 14 original songs and instrumentals, neatly evading genre pigeon-holing as he exhibits a healthy interest in acoustic folk, introverted shoegaze, post-punk rock, and ethnic-flavoured rhythms. While he’s still not much of a singer, continuing to mumble into the microphone with shy, downcast eyes, all the assurance comes through in the assembled playback, and his original poetic ideas continue to intrigue. To put it another way, the instrumental playing is bright, confident and upbeat; the singing is lugubrious, slow, and projecting the persona of a shy, gloomy fellow, but one who’s willing to take you into his confidence, and disclose things worth knowing. I see he’s quite the collaborator these days…among the roster of names he’s played alongside, there’s the great Mike Heron, and considering that the early Incredible String Band albums were pretty much multiple-overdub jobs played entirely by Heron and Robin Williamson, I’d imagine Nick Pynn felt he’d found a true progenitor for his own work. From 7th April 2015, and the successful outcome of a Kickstarter project.

Days Have Gone By


Sumptuous and unusual vinyl package from Ryo Takematsu; his Six-O-Seven Blues (EM RECORDS 1117TEP) has been pressed as three seven-inch singles and housed in a sleeve with a nice thick spine, amounting to a mini-album in terms of duration. (A CD version also exists.) He plays acoustic guitar and would like nothing more than to produce an exact copy of John Fahey’s recordings, right down to the slow and lugubrious but highly precise playing style, the recording method, and even the record labels – which are designed to resemble old Blues 78s. To this end, he dispenses quickly with his sole unique composition at the start of the set – accompanied by Koya Abe on bass guitar and Bo Suzuki playing a snare drum. This track also stands out because it’s adorned with some light electronic decorations, and an overdubbed electric guitar.

Thereafter, it’s the shadow of John Fahey which bestrides most of the set like a colossus – three Fahey cover versions, including Fahey’s tribute to one of his many progenitors, the great Mississippi John Hurt (a Delta bluesman who had a near-unique melodic ripple-picking style and was capable of playing complex ragtime songs, not just 12-bar). Plus one tune by Skip James, and another by William “Bill” Moore, whose ‘Old Country Rock’ from 1928 is a staple of many 1960s blues compilation LPs. Takematsu plays flawlessly. The studied deliberation of his playing deserves your awe and respect. The recording also, as previously noted, is very close to the way Fahey’s records project – as if the microphone were inserted inside the sounding box, producing the effect of a gigantic guitar that’s 18 feet tall. Impressively, he recorded the work in a home studio.

For Fahey fans who want a near-exact reproduction of the Master, you need look no further. Whereas Steffen Basho-Junghans has taken the music of Fahey (and Robbie Basho) as a starting point for his own intense improvisations and compositions, Ryo Takematsu is content to make his Fahey impersonation an end in itself. Only the final track, a re-edit of ‘On Doing An Evil Deed Blues’ created by Tomoki Kanda spoils the mood for this listener by making dancey loops from the music and adding a puny disco beat to the results. Otherwise a very nice item! From November 2013.


Transfigured Time


Very impressed by Kompleta (ICI D’AILLEURS / MIND TRAVELS MT04), a composition of liturgical music and song by the Polish composer Stefan Wesołowski. Inside a framework of stringed instruments (violin, viola, cello) playing continuous drones in a minor key, he and singer Maja Siemińska perform psalm-like responsories in a fittingly solemn manner. All the old-school gloom and Catholic guilt you could wish for; all it needs is a censer burning to complete the devotional effect. Wesolowski has also done similar things assisting the electro-acoustic composer Michał Jacaszek, for instance 2009’s Pentral recorded in various churches in Gdańsk, for which Stefan did the vocal arrangements and performed on the record too. Amazingly, he composed Kompleta when he was only 21. He may have some way to go if he wants to beat Penderecki, but this is a moving and sincere work. From April 2015.

Ultrasonic Bathing Apparatus

Another grand piece of sombre, rich drone music from Italian latterday Industrial creator Simon Balestrazzi. His Ultrasonic Bathing Apparatus (SINCOPE SIN031) proposes a deep dive into cold psychological waters, and with its titles such as ‘First Immersion’ and ‘Second Immersion’ even supplies its own metaphorical interpretation, such that we can’t help hearing this as “music for the diving chamber”. He does it with a combination of field recordings, tapes, acoustic instruments and analogue electronic devices, passing all the recorded results over the loom of processing equipment which he keeps in NeuroHabitat – a zone which I presume is his secret underground mixing lair. The claustrophobic sense of deep pressure and airlessness he manages to achieve at times is impressive. A nice departure from the usual spirit world / occult themed records we usually hear from this fellow. From 24 April 2015.


earnear are a Portuguese trio producing superb free acoustic jazz-improv materials on their self-titled album released by a label in Quebec (TOUR DE BRAS TDB9012cd). The viola of João Camões is to the fore most of the time, and a truly demonic squeely line he produces, one that’s so razor-sharp you could use it to peel your own skin like a potato. But the piano of Rodrigo Pinheiro introduces tones of uncertainty with his minimalistic, mixed chords that resemble the bones of a beached albatross, while underpinning the two is the modest cello work of Miguel Mira, who murmurs dark oaths with a surly frown. While ‘Imprint’ and ‘Theoretical Morning’ are quite lively, they are also salty and somewhat pessimistic in tone, as though a Leroy Jenkins LP woke up after a night out with Cecil Taylor and is now passing through a hangover the size of Passaic. Exploratory tunes such as ‘Dream Theory’ and ‘Time Leak’ are not only more introverted and quieter in tone, but they also pass on terrible feelings of metaphysical doubt, even through their very titles. Dry, precise, and unsentimental acoustic music. A fine recording. From April 2015.